Saturday, January 12, 2019

The dreaded sophmore novel

K White asked
"I do dread the second book. I am told the second, not the first, is your career. I have seen at least two agents I plan on querying allude to this on twitter."
This has itched my brain all morning.

Janet, you asked for topics. Is this one you could address? If it's true, my question is what can authors do to help improve book two (the dreaded sophomore novel)?
It is true.
Maybe not your career but your contract with that publisher. Two book deals are the norm, but publishers for all their big ass talk, really do NOT want to lose money. If the two books don't sell well enough, that's game, set, match.

The better book one does, the more wiggle room you have on book #2.

The first thing is to know you do NOT have a year to write it.
You might have six months.
Your book is DUE to the editor in 12 months, but that means you need the finished first (you think done) draft in six. Then I look at it, edit it (or as some writers describe it: shitalloverit), send it back to you, lather rinse repeat. That's 12 weeks easy.

At the same time, you're ramping up for promo on Book #1 and if you think you'll write in your spare time while doing promo, well, ok, but you're delusional. Not that writers ever believe me till they drag their sorry carcass home from Pitstop, Pennsylvania after a full day on the road to speak to an audience of negative one.

So, having as much of that second book written as possible as early as possible is the first best thing to do.

The second is to PROMOTE EARLY.
Don't try to start tweeting or Facebooking or Instagramming six weeks before pub date.
That's just useless jaw flapping.

Even before you query, or get an agent or a book deal, start making friends.
By making friends I mean following people on Twitter and engaging with them; same with Instagram.

Invest in Dana Kaye's book about building your brand; name recognition in newer, fancier duds.

All this seems pointless right now, without an agent, without a deal.
It's not.
It's saving for a sunny day.

Any questions?

33 comments:

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

From a reader's point of view, sometimes I love a writer's first book (Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects) and don't really care much for their second book (Gillian Flynn, Dark Places), and in other cases, thinking a second book was FANTASTIC and AMAZING and BETTER THAN THE FIRST and I wanted more of exactly that book (Tana French, The Likeness)

Of course, we don't all have assembly lines for brains, so it's likely impossible for books to come out the same way each time, every time. I know I can't do that; I can't do it with short stories either, and I've written far more of them than novels. A story comes when it comes and how it comes, and then edits proceed from there.

*goes to look up Dana Kaye's book*

E.M. Goldsmith said...

6 months? Ugh. I have Dana Kaye's book at the ready. But how do you make friends? I don't have friends. I'm a writer. I have a pug. Is it too early for whiskey?

K White said...

As always, Janet, thank you for the sage advice.

Speaking of building a brand, last night I read on B&Ns blog a list of 25 debut 2019 SF&F novels. On a lark, I visited every author's website, if I could find one. That's what surprised me. I couldn't find a website, Twitter or anything for several of them. The websites I did find varied widely: some were polished and informative while others barely existed.

I don't know that I will buy any of these debuts simply because the author had a website but it certainly raised my opinion of their professionalism.

Jessica said...

Well, this was the most horrifying thing I've ever read. Excuse me, I have to go panic

RKeelan said...

I think I know the answer to this, but does this apply to part-time writers, too?

Luanne G. Smith said...

Ha. What E.M. Goldsmith said. And on that note, it would be rare for me to even care what an author's social media presence is before (and often after) I buy the book. Maybe it's my age, but I really don't care about that stuff. I want to know if the book has the possibility of being good, and my first inkling of that comes from reviews.

As for the pressure of the sophomore novel...it's giving me heart palpitations.

luralee kiesel said...

See, this is why I want to stick my fingers in my ears and hum “Stars and Stripes Forever” whenever anyone says not to write the other books in the series before the first one sells.

Write the second book in six months? That’s even scarier than “wasting time” on a book that never sells.

I’m writing (well, editing now) my trilogy as one piece because when I add something to book three I can go back and lay the foundation in books one and two. I couldn’t do that if the first book was already published.

I have the same question as E.M. Goldsmith, only I have a cocker spaniel, not a pug. I was recently cajoled into starting instagram but haven’t figured out how to use it for fiction. I dread this platform building thing.

Luanne G. Smith said...

I should amend my comment to say, however, that social media does play a role in getting a book's title on my radar. It's just that my sources for that are usually not the author themselves. It's usually a review site or publisher.

Craig F said...

Folks, it is Saturday, quit trying to be depressing.

Also, quit selling yourselves short. The problem with the first book is that writing it is like wandering into an unknown wood on a dark and moonless night.

Finding positive feedback for your first work is a mother. People will tell you what is wrong, but they will not venture into giving you direction.

The writing of the second book will come with all kinds of benefits, you will have professional people to help you.

It is still Saturday, go out and amaze yourself, please.

Janet Reid said...

Anyone who posts a comment on this blog saying they have no friends stern side eye at one particular pug wrangler will be gnawed.

I am your friend.

And I daresay many of the people who also read this blog would count themselves your friends.

THIS is social media at its finest. You come here, you comment, you make friends.

*steps down from soapbox and swims off to torment elsewhere*

Sam Mills said...

E.M. I'll happily be your online friend. I'm also getting ready to wade into the SFF trenches, we can share what we find. :)

Listen to Her Sharkliness. Any good news you get, post here and we'll go swimming to pick it up. (You were networking without realizing it! The best, most genuine kind!)

Dena Pawling said...


>>By making friends I mean following people on Twitter and engaging with them; same with Instagram.

I have a blog and Twitter. Am I correct to understand you that Twitter and Instagram are the currently-preferred social media? This is semi-good news, since I LOATHE [the strongest word I can think of this early on a Saturday] Facebook. Does Twitter and Instagram also apply to MG writers?


KariV said...

Not to say it's easy, but you might be surprised what you can do when someone (a publisher) lights the fire of a PAYING deadline under you. It's one thing to take 5 years writing book 1. You need to be sure it's good enough to garner attention; you need to hone your craft; you need to develop your voice - all of that takes time. Once you have a winner tho, all those tools are at the ready. You're not swimming in uncharted waters any more and you have a friend (agent) by your side. That make writing book 2 a whole lot easier.

Rayna Reveur said...

Hi, longtime lurker, rare commenter. But I had to make sure: is it six months from the date of signing the book deal for your series? Or from the publication of book 1? (I have a hunch as to which one, since nothing is ever easy in the world of writing, but I thought I'd double check.)

Beth Carpenter said...

On one hand, my experience (and apparently Jeff Somers's) is that online activity doesn't translate very directly to sales. On the other hand, I've discovered Donna Everhart and Kari Dell here, and several other authors from various review sites and mentions, so it must work sometimes.

Colin Smith said...

Elise: I second/third/fourth that slap. Yes, you have friends! :)

RKeelan: If by "part-time writers" you mean writers who don't write full-time, I hope you're aware that even for published writers, that's the norm. You might be surprised how few writers can write full-time without some second income source. This is not a high-earning industry, unless you're among a very small percentage who write the right book at the right time and get the right deal with the right people. I have a blog article up at the moment about that if you're interested. (My blog is linked in my Blogger profile.)

Timothy Lowe said...

I tried the whole friend-building thing on Twitter recently. It's actually kind of addicting, once you get into it. I tend to shy away from that first contact by nature, but forcing yourself out of that little box can yield great things, like Dena Pawling's suggestion of Lee Lofland's book "Police Procedure and Investigation: a Guide for Writers." ANYONE writing a book with even a minor cop character will find it VERY worthwhile!

And yes, I am also friends with EM on Twitter . . .

(For now, I am shunning Instagram -- too much to handle all at once!)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I do adore you guys in that you are not the sort of friends that require me to bathe and wear pants. I never do well with that sort. It is why I hang out here. And you're a bunch of damn good writers.

Thank you, your Majesty for the slap. May I have another? The pug has informed me that she is no longer my friend. I offered to watch a neighbor's cat and now she is furious with me.

But I needed a cat to study. Research you know.

Have any of you discovered a cure for a synopsis? It's that part that comes right before the agent and book deal and the even more fearsome second book. No? Ok, back to banging my head on my desk.

Mallory Love said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Smith said...

Elise: Talking about synopses, here's a thought. Have you ever heard of an agent who rejected a query because of the synopsis? Agents will tell you they want a synopsis, and maybe offer guidelines on how to write one, but is there a Synopsis Shark out there? Someone offering advice on how to write a compelling synopsis? Stories of synopses that "didn't work"? Unless I'm missing something, the answer to that is... no. Which, I think, gives you an indication of how important that synopsis is. You do it because you've been asked to, but unless Janet has horror stories to share (as if the synopsis isn't Stephen King-worthy on its own), I don't think there is a wrong way to write a synopsis. As long as you sum up the story's highlights and tell the agent how it all ends, you've got it. Don't over-think this.

There you go: An encouraging thought amidst all the "second book" nightmare comments. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin At this point, I think I might just offer up a blood-covered smear as my synopsis for the two of the ten agents at top of my list that want one. Or I might move those agents into my second 10 instead of my top 10. I am sure you are right. From what I have heard, the synopsis is just something to show the agent you have a decent structure with a good solid ending. I have that. I think.

I am taking the oft seen advice to let my book percolate another 4-6 weeks since this final revision to make sure I have landed everything. It's killing me to wait but I don't' want to blow through my best agents with a not quite ready for prime time effort.So, going to let this synopsis lie or lay or whatever the right damn verb is, and work on dread book two for a time.

Tammy Pigott said...

How likely is it to extend the expected year deadline for book 2? Is that a rare, or even unlikely occurrence? For instance, in the case of a new baby.

Casey Karp said...

It's rare that I get to be a voice of reason...

Folks, remember that's six months from when you sign the contract with the publisher. Not from when you go on submission, not from when you sign with your agent. Nor does a two book deal necessarily mean a series!

I figure I've got two books in the can right now. Maybe they weren't good enough to attract an agent, but I'm better now (and I'll be even better by the time I find an agent) AND said agent will, as Janet said, be there to shitallover the manuscripts. Then there's the book I'm working on now while I'm querying.

I don't have six months to write my second book. I've had years, and will likely have months or years yet (find agent, revise book that snagged agent, out on submission, etc.)

No hamster wheel on this issue for me. And, I hope, for most of you too, if you just take a deep breath.

BrendaLynn said...

When I came to the book I’m working on now, I was sure I couldn’t do it again, let alone do it better. I had to stop and tell myself that it was for my own entertainment before the story began to unfold.
I can think of a few authors who were shopping around 4-6 manuscripts before they sold their first one. What a lovely position for a writer to find themselves in.

CynthiaMc said...

Maybe my habit of working on 4 things at once will pay off after all...

NLiu said...

Just to say I recently signed up to Twitter as Janet instructed *doffs hat to the Shark* and it's much more fun than I thought it would be! Enjoying interacting with you guys on there and have discovered some great stuff to read as well.

John Davis Frain said...

I just came inside from shoveling 12 inches of snow, which turns out to be the day's light work. But if penning #2 is the hard work, that means editing my current ms must be more light work.

Rejoice! Easy street, here I come.

Beth Carpenter said...

Colin and Elise, I can't say my synopsis scared off any agents, but I've had several proposals rejected based on synopses. So it does pay to make sure your main plot points AND emotional turning points are there.

RKeelan said...

Colin, I'm aware that even most published writers are part-time, which is why I think I know the answer :)

Jennifer Mugrage said...

I'll be ya friend!!!

Kregger said...

E M,

Without good synapses, everyone would degenerate into piles of goo.

So, considering you and everyone else (on this blog) is in good shape...no worries.

Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.

The K-man.

Alina Sergachov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alina Sergachov said...

I wonder if it's a bit different for fantasy writers. After all, it takes many of them more than a year to publish the next book. For example, Patrick Rothfus: The Name of the Wind (2007), The Wise Man's Fear (2011) and the last novel wasn't published yet. G. R. R. Martin, Kristen Britain, etc.

Wow, writing a novel in six months is... challenging. Hopefully, it gets easier. But then again, when I interviewed a playwright Robert Chafe a couple of months ago, he told me that writing gets even more difficult with time. Now that he is an accomplished writer, he has even more doubts and fears with regard to his craft.